I am a white, middle class, cisgender, queer, and non-disabled female. I acknowledge the impact my positionality has on my understanding of the subject matter in this article.
I’ve known that I was bisexual since I was 14 years old, but I didn’t know what the bisexual pride flag looked like until I was 22. In fact, even though I knew I liked both girls and boys since I was really young, I didn’t even know bisexuality was a sexual orientation until I was a teenager. All this to say, the lack of representation of bisexuality in popular media when I was growing up meant that it took me a long time to understand my own sexual orientation, and even longer to realize that the representations of bisexuality that I had been consuming were feeding me misconceptions about what it means to be bisexual in our society.
Call it what you want: biphobia, bi-erasure, bi-fetishization – the point is, more representation doesn’t always mean better representation. As we learn more about the influence of media representation on queer folks, it’s more important than ever to provide authentic, positive representations of bisexuality in our media. The first step towards providing this crucial representation is identifying and rectifying the myths and stereotypes that are so often present in the media we consume.
Wait, what’s Bi-Fetishization?
Great question. As the name suggests, bi-fetishization is the process through which people who identify as bisexual are hypersexualized and objectified based on the assumption that they are sexually “greedy”. Gross, right? This idea is manifested in common misconceptions about bisexual folks, such as the idea that we’re always down for a threesome (no, we don’t want to have a ‘fun time’ with you and your partner, thanks for taking up real estate on gay dating apps though), or that we’re more likely to cheat on our partners (this one just never made sense to me, so I can’t even make a joke about it). Let me give you an example.
Liam Payne recently came under fire for his song “Both Ways” in which he sings about having a threesome with his girlfriend who “likes the way it all tastes” (remember the days of TWMYB?). I won’t bother going through the song lyric by lyric, but something about the words “sharing that body like it’s our last meal” doesn’t sit quite right with me (or the rest of the internet, apparently). Not convinced about bi-fetishization? Still think it’s “kinda hot though”? Here’s a snippet from The Weeknd’s “Lost In The Fire”:
You said you might be into girls (Into girls)
You said you’re going through a phase (Through a phase)
Keeping your heart safe (Keeping your heart safe, oh)
Well, baby, you can bring a friend (Bring a friend)
She can ride on top your face (Top your face)
While I f*ck you straight (While I f*ck you straight, yeah)
These lyrics are a perfect example of how bisexual bodies are so often represented as hypersexual objects whose only value is to spice up straight couples’ sex lives. This myth is an echo of a long history of the hypersexualization and objectification of queer bodies as a means to oppress and discriminate against our communities. While you might think representation in the media isn’t such a big deal, stereotypes like this can have harmful and violent effects in real life (these effects are even more amplified when you intersect queerness with other identities such as race). Say it with me: sexual orientation does not determine sexual activity! Louder for the people in the back: sexual orientation does not determine sexual activity!
Got it. What’s Bi-Erasure?
Again, this one is pretty self-explanatory – it’s the process through which bisexuality is delegitimized and mislabelled as sexual confusion to invalidate it as a “real” sexual orientation. You’re probably wondering how you can “erase” a sexuality, right? Let’s turn to everybody’s favourite quotable-yet-problematic series, Sex and the City. In season 3, episode 4, main character Carrie Bradshaw is absolutely smitten with a man until she finds out he’s…*pause for dramatic effect*…bisexual! Horrified, Carrie turns to her friends, who tell her that bisexuality is actually just a “layover to gaytown” and “greedy double-dipping” (remember that whole bi-fetishization thing?).
And if you’re thinking “Okay, but Sex and the City is dated, surely such overt bi-erasure in popular media is a thing of the past”, let’s ask our friend Nicki Minaj (Lewinsky, The Ninja, The Boss, The Barbie). In her remix of Doja Cat’s “Say So”, Nicki raps that she “used to bi but now [she’s] just hetero”. Turns out bisexuality isn’t just a layover to GayTown, but to HeteroVille as well (insert joke about khaki pants and Grey’s Anatomy).
Truthfully, there’s nothing wrong or abnormal about one’s sexuality changing over time. In fact, it can be healthy and fun to explore your own sexuality or change how you express yourself sexually. However, perpetuating the idea that bisexuality isn’t “real” only serves to invalidate the experiences and delegitimize the identities of bisexual folks. We’re very happy in our Borough of Bisexuality, thank you very much.
Okay, thanks to your witty yet informative use of popular media to explain biphobia, I now realize I have unknowingly consumed and normalized biphobic tropes and maybe even perpetuated these stereotypes in real life. So what now?
Queer representation in popular media has come a really long way in the past few decades, but it’s far from perfect. Identifying, acknowledging and rejecting harmful misrepresentations of bisexual folks (and queer folks in general) is the first step towards achieving representation that reflects us, inspires us, and makes us proud to be who we are. While the lack of this kind of representation isn’t your fault, now that you’ve been educated about biphobia in the media and how its effects can seep into reality, it is your responsibility to call it out when you encounter it, whether it be on your TV or in real life.
Cool. Are there any non-problematic representations of bisexuality in popular culture?
I’m so glad you asked – here are some really cool representations of bisexuality in TV:
Since we have literally nothing else to do in this never-ending quarantine, there’s no excuse not to expand your horizons and include some authentic queer representation in your Netflix lineup. Happy binge watching!
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: